The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The ways Trump could be held accountable, ranked by likelihood

The Post’s Devlin Barrett outlines the potential charges President Trump and his legal team may face for inciting a mob to breach the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. (Video: The Washington Post)

A day after an assault on the U.S. Capitol and democracy itself, we aren’t sure what, if anything, will happen to President Trump for his role in it. Democrats and good-governance experts think some kind of accountability is necessary, to try to prevent this from happening again.

But many of the options are long shots. Here are the ones being discussed at high levels, ranked in order of least to most likely to happen:

3. Impeachment and conviction

Dozens of congressional Democrats have said they support impeaching the president; one on Wednesday even wrote up articles of impeachment while hunkered down waiting for Capitol to be secured.

On Thursday, the most powerful Democrats in Congress — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles. E. Schumer (N.Y.) — joined them. They said if the Trump Cabinet didn’t remove the president through the 25th Amendment, then Congress should try to impeach him.

Georgetown University constitutional law scholar Josh Chafetz said this could happen quickly; in a few days, if Congress wanted to do this. And House Democrats may decide they want to and hold a vote in the next few days. It only takes a majority to impeach a president in the House of Representatives. House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said Thursday he’d support doing that. Impeachment normally goes through his committee.

But there is no indication that the vast majority of Congress wants to do this. And why impeach if the president isn’t going to get convicted in the Senate?

So far there zero Republican lawmakers have expressed openness to this. On the contrary, most congressional Republicans supported blocking Biden’s win after the mob tore into the U.S. Capitol, as The Post’s Philip Bump tallies.

“I am hopeful that the worst is behind us,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a Trump supporter who criticized the president Wednesday, said when asked if he’d support removing the president for what happened. (“If something else happens, all options would be on the table,” he qualified.)

This idea started in Democratic circles, where it seems it will stay.

2. The 25th Amendment

There’s a section of this amendment that allows the vice president and a majority of a Cabinet to kick the president out of office by declaring him unfit. He can fight it, which kicks the decision to Congress. (More on how it works here.) The bottom line is that by the time all this is likely solved, Trump would have to leave office anyway, and for most of the interim, Vice President Pence would be in charge.

If this sounds far-fetched, normally it is. In fact, I wrote as much when this amendment got raised at the start of Trump’s term.

But here’s why this is more likely than impeachment: Some Cabinet members have been talking about it, report my Washington Post White House colleagues. Their sources stressed the talks were preliminary, which means they may have well faded already. On Thursday one Cabinet member, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, resigned rather than stay in and talk about this. It suggests that the 25th Amendment may not be an option for Trump officials like Chao who may want to hold the president accountable.

1. Convince him to resign

This is easier than impeachment or invoking the 25th Amendment in that it only takes one person — the president — to get him out of office.

But on Wednesday, Republican lawmakers, White House aides and Trump allies struggled to get the president to issue a statement telling his supporters to leave the Capitol. He did, but it was a wishy-washy one filled with false statements about who won the presidential election. And he told the rioters, who the FBI is now tracking down, that he loves them and they’re special.

On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal editorial board, which sometimes has the ear of Trump, endorsed both impeachment and Trump resigning, saying the former would help heal the country’s wounds: “It is best for everyone, himself included, if he goes away quietly.”

By Thursday evening, Trump released a video effectively conceding the presidential race.

While this may be the likeliest option for now, it’s difficult to see Trump walking away, even if the bottom is falling out from under him.

This has been updated.